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EDITORIAL | Will China Take Heed of the U.N. Panel’s Climate Change Report?

China is the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, responsible for one-third of the world’s total emissions, double that of the U.S.

Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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Hurricane Laura, August 2020 (Image from ISS, photo by NASA)

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The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth report on climate change on August 9, summarizing the current state of global warming as well as making predictions on climate change in the future.

Since issuing its first report on climate change in 1990, the IPCC has continued to raise the alarm that climate change is caused by human activity.

This message has become increasingly serious with each report. In the latest document, it states: 

It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.

Red Light on Paris Agreement Targets

The report also warns: 

Global warming of 1.5C and 2C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades

The report’s authors include a demand that emissions peak and then drop around the middle of the 21st century.

If the planet continues to be dependent on fossil fuels, then it is predicted that temperatures will rise by 1.3C to 1.9C between 2021 and 2040, and then by 3.3C to 5.7C by the end of the century.

These predictions are significant when one considers the Paris Agreement, which has effectively become the international gold standard in terms of preventing global warming.

The Paris Agreement aims to: 

Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. 

Yet there are fears the 1.5C figure might be exceeded within the next 20 years.

The influence of the IPCC is significant. Abnormal weather is occurring more frequently.

Laohugou No. 12 glacier in the Qilian mountains, China September 26, 2020. “The speed that this glacier has been shrinking is really shocking.” REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

China’s Responsibility

At the 26th COP summit scheduled to take place in October 2021 in the United Kingdom, it is likely that international negotiations surrounding the reduction of further greenhouse gas emissions will be somewhat heated.

Frankly speaking, the country that should take the initiative in the wake of the latest IPCC report is China. China’s carbon dioxide emissions represent about one-third of the world’s total.

Not only is it the world’s biggest emitter, it is also double that of the U.S., which is in second place.

Yet despite this, China has stated that it will continue to increase its carbon dioxide emissions over the next nine years. Moreover, it is possible that coal-fired power generation, which is inefficient, will probably spread from China to developing nations.

Unless China changes course, the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will not stop. We hope that COP26 developed nations will persuade China’s President Xi Jinping not to ignore the warning messages spelled out in the IPCC report. We also want to see Greta Thunberg play a role.

The report also affects Japan. In April this year, the Yoshihide Suga administration — influenced by the United States’ Biden administration — pledged that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46% (up from 26%) by fiscal 2030, compared to fiscal 2013 levels.

However, currently, thermal power generation in Japan that uses fossil fuels represents about 80% of total power generation. At this rate, it will inevitably be criticized at COP.

Low-emissions Osaki Cool-Gen plant

Decarbonization Through Nuclear Power

The Japanese government is planning to expand solar and wind power, but these are variable renewable energy sources, so the country will need to maintain thermal power generation as well.

In order to adhere to international decarbonization trends, Japan must focus urgently on restarting nuclear power plants. It must proceed with making high-temperature gas cooled reactors a reality in order to achieve its 2050 goal of carbon neutrality.

However, with regard to IPCC activities and COP discussions, there are still some points of concern. They seem to limit discussion of the causes of ongoing temperature increases to greenhouse gas effects. But is this accurate?

Polar bear on an arctic iceberg.

Go Beyond an Exclusive Focus on CO2

There is a theory that the earth is still recovering from the Little Ice Age, which lasted for about 200 years to the 20th century, and that some part of temperature increases are related to this.

Research has been conducted on the activity of solar magnetic fields and its relationship with temperature increases. The Earth is just one part of the universe so the science of climate change is very complex.

Calculation results for a virtual globe created using a supercomputer might be useful, but they are not always perfect. Also, the difficulty of incorporating the effect of clouds — which can raise and reduce temperatures — has been pointed out for a while.

The Earth’s climate has a long history of change. Important research on ice in the Antarctic and sediment in lakes is ongoing. They offer glimpses of many climate fluctuations.

Climate science should not have a totalitarian shadow cast over it. The issue of climate change involves components such as international hegemony and economic war — something we must pay our utmost attention to.

(Read this Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)

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Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun